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Mudville: December 3, 2022 5:45 pm PDT
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Bob Lacey II

“My baseball career was adversely effected by the 1976 lockout, the 1981 strike and 1985 collusion.”

There are some players that just resonate with a fanbase.

Sure, people love the perennial MVP and Cy Young candidates, but there are certain guys who don’t fall into those categories who just strike a chord with fans.

Bob Lacey is one of those players and he joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.

This installment of Spitballin’ is the second half of a two-part interview and what we learned from the reaction to Part I is that Lacey is still revered by A’s fans 42 years after he last pitched for the franchise.

Lacey may have only pitched four seasons for the A’s, but when Part I of this interview was shared widely in the baseball social media landscape, fans were quick to remember those A’s teams of the late 1970s and early 80s, which Lacey was a big part of.

Lacey was described as classy and special and one fan even pointed out his nickname,
“Spacey Lacey.” They shared other stories of the A’s and Lacey and it was a great collective trip down memory lane.

Many pitchers were with the A’s organization for a longer period of time and they have their share of hurlers with World Series rings but Lacey unfortunately isn’t one of them. So what makes Lacey so memorable among A’s fans?

Fans genuinely appreciated that Lacey was a true competitor for their team, and a true character as well. He was as unpredictable as he was enthusiastic and he was the ultimate competitor. Fans always relate to blue-collar players whose efforts could never be questioned and that’ exactly who Lacey was.

One of the more famous stories around Lacey was that in just his fourth Major League game, he struck out Reggie Jackson twice in his first trip back to Oakland as a member of the Yankees. Not content with just striking out the future Hall of Famer, the young Lacey let him have it from the mound.

Lacey confesses today that he acted like a jerk during that incident, but fans still appreciate the scrappiness of the young hurler towards the established star who had recently spurned them in free agency.

One of the great things about BallNine is that we get to connect fans with Major Leaguers and provide an outlet for players to share their stories. It’s a fantastic look behind the curtain and into all the dusty corners of baseball around the world. Being able to relive that exciting time when the A’s franchise was rejuvenated with a huge influx of young talent and a firebrand manager is something fans of the franchise can appreciate for sure.

So it’s story time once again as we go Spitballin’ once again with Bob Lacey.

Thanks for joining us once again this week, Mr. Lacey. There was such a great response to Part I of our interview and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your stories. You came onto the A’s just as they were breaking up that great team of the early 70s. What was that like for you?

Charlie Finley tried to sell off all those players. He even tried to sell Rollie Fingers, Joe Rudi and Vida Blue to the Red Sox and Yankees. The commissioner had to step in and reverse it all. The AA team at the time had myself, Jeff Newman, Wayne Gross, Dwayne Murphy, Rob Piccolo and a bunch of other guys who would make it to the Majors. They were ready to give us our chance. We were with Tucson and in Salt Lake City at the time finishing up a series and then heading to Albuquerque for the next series. We were told to pack our bags and that we were all going to the Big Leagues.

 “The fans are up there saying, “That dumb manager, why’s he leaving him in to hit!” or “Why are they taking him out?” That makes things interesting.”

That all got struck down though and you didn’t get called up at that point. What happened there?

Sal Bando and Gene Tenace were the two Italians who kept everyone in line. If Reggie Jackson didn’t tag up from third base on a play, Sal and Gino would be on his case. That’s why they called them the fighting A’s. Blue Moon Odom was one tough guy too. You’ve heard managers say that if you could keep players who posture in the clubhouse from killing each other, they would take that anger out on the field.

Anyway, Sal Bando and Gene Tenace said that the A’s were going on strike if that all went through. There was one player who didn’t want to go on strike though, Tim Hosley. Hosley was the 24th man on a 25 man roster. He told those guys that nothing would happen to them if they went on strike, but that Charlie would take it out on someone and it would probably be him. He was right. When we got to Albuquerque, Tim Hosley was waiting for us there and Jeff Newman was going to the Big Leagues, where he stayed pretty much the rest of his career.

I could definitely see Charlie Finley being like that. Hosley isn’t a name I recognize from the early 80s A’s, so I am assuming he never really got his chance.

Right. For the next four years, Tim Hosley wasn’t allowed to leave AAA as long as Charlie Finley was the owner. If an owner wanted to bury you, they buried you. You weren’t gonna see the Big Leagues, period. Charlie Finley was just that mean. Tim Hosley hit about 26 home runs and drove in 102 runs in the minors in 1980 and Japan wanted to buy him, but Charlie wouldn’t even sell him to Japan. He still held that grudge. If he went there, he would have been like Josh Gibson or Randy Bass, who went over and had a lot of success.

In 1980, Michael Norris went to Billy Martin and asked to bring Tim Hosley up because he had a little less than four years in the Majors. He started out in Detroit, but he was still short of four years. Charlie Finley was making sure he didn’t get his four years. Billy was very good about making sure guys got their baseball pension and before 1980, you had to have four full years to get your baseball pension.

That’s great of Billy Martin to do and I am not surprised he was looking out for guys like that. I know the labor situation wasn’t great at all back then, so it was good Billy was looking out for his players.

We still have a situation now where some fellas who played before 1980 who don’t have a pension. Those guys are the reason why today’s players make the money they do. Major League Baseball needs to find a way to make sure those guys get their pension. After 1980, all you needed was a day and you got a baseball pension. The very guys who fought for the Players’ Association were the guys before 1980, and now they’re left out.

How did the labor strife of that time affect your career?

My baseball career was adversely effected by the 1976 lockout, the 1981 strike and 1985 collusion. Otherwise, I would have probably played another six or seven years. I don’t regret it though. In 1985, I had the best Spring Training I could have had. I don’t regret about not performing trying to make a team. If I had gotten reinstated, I was prepared for some other team to trade for me, but it didn’t happen. After the 1985 season, Peter Ueberroth had sent out a memo not to sign re-entry free agents, which is what I was. If you look, 30% of the players on Major League rosters in 1985 were gone the next year. Jack Morris was considered one of the best pitchers in baseball at the time. He tried to get away from the Tigers and nobody wanted him. Are you kidding me?

That’s pretty brutal and unfortunate that your career, like many others, were negatively affected by labor difficulties. I would only hope players of today appreciate what you all went through, but I am not sure they all do.

You played for some great managers in your seven years. Can you talk about some of the guys you played for?

I was very fortunate to play for some great guys. I played for Frank Robinson, Danny Ozark, Moose Stubing, Rene Lacheman, Billy Martin. I remember when Frank Robinson got fired, Dusty Baker said, “I don’t think there will be any more Black managers.” I said, “I don’t know Dusty, I think you might be a manager one day.” When he got his first managerial job in the Arizona Fall League I went to see him and was very happy. I pull for Dusty each year. He came close that one year against the Angels. I’ll be rooting for him again this year too.

Looking at your stats, you pitched in 284 games in your career and 282 of them were in relief. In one of your two starts, you threw a complete game shutout in 1980. How did that come about?

That was my one big claim to fame came. The A’s threw 94 complete games that year. Even as a reliever I still pitched around 80 innings. But on the next to last game of the season, Billy gave me a start against Bambi’s Bombers, the Milwaukee Brewers. They had Gorman Thomas, Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Larry Hisle. In the fifth inning, Jim Gantner got a bunt base hit and I walked Bucky Martinez, who was batting last. Paul Molitor hit a lined shot for a hit to left field. Rickey Henderson was out there and he fielded it and threw a line drive all the way to home plate. Jim Essian was catching and he was such a hot dog. He caught Rickey’s throw and framed the catch like a pitch, because it was right over home plate. Then he just laid the tag down on Gantner for the second out.

So who follows Molitor in that lineup? Robin Yount. Out came Art Fowler, our pitching coach. I had two outs. He said, “Come on Lacey, Billy’s getting on my case.” Art used to just come out to the mound and tell jokes. I struck out Yount to get out of the inning and then cruised the rest of the way for the shutout. I threw 100 pitches that game and completed the game. It was the 94th complete game of the season for the A’s and no team has come close to that since. Then the very next day, Rick Langford was trying to win number 20, and guess who was warming up in the bullpen? I was. I could have gone a couple innings.

I am with you. I guess they say they’re trying to generate more offense, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening.

When I first started in the minor leagues, pitchers hit. It was expected of us that we could learn how to walk, learn how to hit the other way and learn how to bunt. It was expected of us to move the runner over to help the offense. If you could do a little better than that, they might expand their expectations of what you could do. That’s part of strategy that goes away. That comes into play on a double switch. Those are the great chess moves in the game. The fans are up there saying, “That dumb manager, why’s he leaving him in to hit!” or “Why are they taking him out?” That makes things interesting. Then you had managers murmuring about all the second guessing going on.

That’s a great point. These new rules are put in to potentially add more offense, but that comes at the expense of strategy and those chess moves, which I feel like real baseball fans enjoy. You said you hit in the minor leagues, what was your experience like in the Majors up at bat?

I had to wait nine years between at bats. My fellow teammates always tell me to shut up, but I am a lifetime .333 hitter in the Big Leagues. I was 2-6 for my career. I didn’t hit with the A’s, but when I went to the Giants I got to hit for myself. I got an excuse me hit down to first base. Remember Willie Montanez? That big hot dog with the Mets? He was playing first for the Braves at the time and I hit a little roller up towards him and beat it out. Then I got an actual hit off Jay Tibbs. I had an RBI and I scored a run, so I had a power rating too. The guys I do alumni stuff with will hear me talking about that and say, “You’re talking about your two hits again? Shut up!” Because, right, that’s all we care about as pitchers is our hitting.

I love it. I always love hearing about pitchers talk about their hitting and usually make sure I can squeeze a question or two in about it. Those make some great stories.

You know, Blue Moon Odom used to walk around saying, “I got 15 Big League taters!” And he did! Catfish Hunter was a good hitter too. That pitcher with the Giants, Madison Bumgarner, was a good hitter too. There are a lot of guys who were good hitters. Fernando Valenzuela was a real good hitter too. Hopefully, they change their minds one day and go back.

Again, couldn’t agree more. We talked a lot about your career and thoughts on the game, but I wanted to ask about one of your teammates. You were already on the A’s when Rickey Hendserson first came up. What are your thoughts about playing with Rickey for a few years there?

Rickey Henderson is the best baseball player I’ve ever played with and he’s the greatest leadoff hitter that ever played the game of baseball. But his style isn’t played in today’s game. I am very sorry when I see baseball in this day and age with these ridiculous shifts. I thought they might be going back in that directions when the Royals won the World Series. They ran and took extra bases. They put pressure on the defense and pitchers. That’s what Rickey did.

When the Mets played the Royals in the World Series, Eric Hosmer was on third base and there was a grounder to David Wright at third base. He looked Hosmer back like he was supposed to and made a good throw to first. Then Hosmer took off for home. Lucas Duda was playing first and he’s a right-handed thrower. It should have enabled him to make the very best throw. When I was a ballplayer that was what was expected. The throw came in high and up and he scored. Hosmer had quickness, but he wasn’t a fast runner. That’s a play that had to be made. That’s an average Major League play when I was a baseball player. The Royals were running all over the Mets and that made me hopeful. I thought the Royals might be on to something and I thought with their success by being aggressive on the base paths, others would follow. But they didn’t.

I know that play all too well unfortunately. Fundamentals aren’t near what they used to be anymore.

Well they don’t take infield-outfield before the games anymore. There’s a lot more too it too. When I was a kid in about 1963, I remember reading a headline in the Tucson Daily Citizen, “Ollie Brown Misses Cutoff Man.”  That was in the front page of the newspaper. Front page news that someone missed the cutoff man. How many cutoff men are missed today? That’s important!

The A’s were known for hitting their cutoff men. Dick Williams had them out there working on that stuff. Billy Martin had us out there doing relays and throwing to the right bases. The three things that the A’s championship teams in the 1970s were good at were pitching, defense and timely hitting. That’s how they won three World Series. They weren’t scoring ten runs a game like The Big Red Machine. They were winning 2-1 or 3-2. I really enjoyed watching Derek Jeter play baseball, but tell me that Campy Campaneris wasn’t every bit as good as him.

Have there been any players that you enjoyed watching over the years?

Mike Piazza. I really liked watching him play baseball. I was glad he got traded to the Mets. I hated the Dodgers, but like him. When he went to the Mets, I started pulling for them because I liked Mike Piazza. Roger Clemens throwing at him was bullshit. I don’t use profanity anymore, but it’s appropriate when talking baseball. But you know why that was bullshit? Clemens knew he’s not hitting. That’s another reason why there shouldn’t be a DH. Pitchers should take their turn up at bat. They shouldn’t be throwing at batters and that deters it sometimes. I am sure you remember that big brawl between the Padres and Braves with Pascual Perez.

Oh absolutely! Well this has been awesome and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your stories with us. I love everything you had to say and I know our readers will too. Thank you again.

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book will be out in April 2021.

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